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Those in crisis for Substance Use Disorder (SUD) can once again seek residential treatment at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City. While their outpatient services have remained open throughout the pandemic—averaging 60-90 telehealth sessions per day—the residential program closed in March 2020 and reopened this January with a couple of noticeable changes. There are now Covid-19 protocols in place (i.e. fewer residents, masking, social distancing, being closed to outside visitors), as well as something that’s fairly new to the SUD field: Recovery Coaches.
“The opioid crisis keeps going up and up and up,” says Susan Kramer, outpatient behavioral health manager at Munson in Traverse City.
For the 12-month period ending in April 2021, more than 100,306 people died of opioid overdoses in the United States, according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. That’s an increase of 28.5 percent from the previous 12 months, per the CDC data.
To give it a local perspective, Susan says that Munson had 425 overdose visits in 2020. “And that doesn’t count the people who chose not to come in for treatment” she adds. “I would expect similar, if not higher, totals coming out of 2021.”
The Michigan Overdose Data to Action Team (MODA) reports overdose deaths in Michigan each year. In 2020, they reported 2,738 deaths. In the first quarter of 2021 (the most recent data provided), they reported 956 deaths, an upward trend from the same time period in the previous year.
Susan believes the increase is, in part, related to the pandemic. “There are several reasons,” she explains. “People became more isolated throughout the pandemic, access to care decreased, community recovery meetings shut down, people got sick and lost their jobs and experienced increased stress.”
She notes that pre-pandemic, there were about 200 recovery meetings in Traverse City each week—people could get to AA, Smart Recovery and other programs. “They had so many options, but then everything shut down and many people lost their support overnight,” she says. “It took us a while to learn how to put together virtual meetings and services.”
The result? People were stressed and isolated.
“Even for someone without addiction, it was a stressful time and people looked for coping mechanisms,” she says. “Many would describe addiction as a disease of isolation.”
The return of Munson’s residential program, which treats all kinds of substance use disorders, is a welcome sight locally. However, the reopening has its own scars from the pandemic. Instead of the 14 beds they had before, they now offer 10 beds (one patient per room). In addition, it is now a “closed” program—meaning that no visitors are allowed. Instead, telehealth is used to include family members and loved ones in a patient’s treatment experience.
“Addiction affects the whole family, and it’s important for family members to receive education and be involved in the treatment experience based on the patient’s needs,” Susan says.
Other Covid precautions include testing, masking, social distancing and no travel to community support meetings. The program is considered short-term and high-intensity. It is a variable length of stay less than 30 days based on medical necessity, Susan notes. Munson helps patients secure insurance, Medicaid or other funding when possible.
“The program includes individual and group therapy, psycho-education, wellness activities and more,” Susan says. “We look at the reasons that people began using. We teach coping skills, create a healing space for trauma and/or loss, family relationships, and chronic and mental illness, in addition to substance use disorder histories, emotional regulation and distress tolerance skills. We teach new ways to build a life in recovery.”
Part of that comes from the advice of those who have been there: Recovery Coaches.
“A Recovery Coach is different than a therapist, different than a 12-step program,” Susan says. “It’s focused on getting connected to resources, building recovery capital, helping with housing, employment and transportation, and showing people in the program the steps the coaches took to recover as well.”
Munson Behavioral Health has four Recovery Coaches. They have all lived their own recovery experience and gone through a coach certification process. Jesse Lewit is a Recovery Coach who started last fall. He was in law enforcement for 30 years, then, after retiring, he says he slid into an alcohol use problem. He eventually did the residential program at Munson, as well as an outpatient program.
“I’ve been completely sober now for two years and love it,” he says. “During my recovery, I tried out lots of things I enjoyed to spend my time on, but my desire to help others like I did in law enforcement resurfaced. I decided to take the training to become a coach.”
Jesse now works three days a week as a coach, mostly helping in the Emergency Department at Munson, meeting people there when they come in due to an overdose. “My role is uniquely suited to me as a former first responder,” he says. “I build a bridge from their hospital stay to treatment. I see people at their worst, and sometimes, later, at their best!”
Jesse says he visits people every day that they’re in the hospital, sharing his story of recovery, hoping to help them.
“I tell everyone about my substance abuse, which is something they may not have in common with anyone else in the medical system,” he says. Then with a laugh, he adds, “I don’t always tell them I’m a former police officer! But I do tell them what I think will help or provide them with an example or glimmer of hope.”
Jesse also helps patients navigate the system to get into residential care and receive medical assistance. “The best plan is to discharge from Munson and be admitted to a detox program the same day,” he explains. “You want to keep them from going back out into the environment that brought them here in the first place. When a person hits rock bottom and is fighting for their life, that’s a good time to get them to talk about improving their life.”
Susan adds that there are specific SUD and HIPAA laws that protect the confidentiality of patients while seeking treatment.
“You don’t need a referral,” she says. “We do a phone screening and help you determine the right level of care and look at how we can help you with funding.”
Related Read: How to Utilize Telehealth Services in Northern Michigan.
To learn more about the program, call 231.935.6382 or 1.800.662.6766. Online, visit munsonhealthcare.org/services/ behavioral-health/behavioral-health.
Kandace Chapple is a freelance writer and founder of the Michigan Girl Bike Club. She can be reached at kandacechapple.com.